The Crucifix of St.Bridget of Sweden

We are indebted to two of the St.Bridget’s confessors, Peter of Vadstena and Peter of Alvastra, for the biography of the Saint that was written in the year of her death, 1373. From this biography, we learn that Bridget was born in 1303 to a mother known for her deep piety and to Birger Persson, a provincial judge who was one of the wealthiest landholders of the country. At the age of 14 (or 15), Bridget consented to her parents’ wishes and was married to Prince Ulf Gudmarsson, who was then 18. The happy marriage was blessed with eight children, among them being St. Catherine of Sweden.

Apparently Bridget’s saintly and happy married life was noticed by members of the Swedish court, since she was summoned there around the year 1335 to serve as companion to the newly married Queen Blanche of Namur, wife of Magnus Eriksson, King of Sweden. It was hoped that the Saint’s spiritual practices and kindly disposition would affect the queen, but Bridget eventually realized that she could do nothing to diminish the queen’s extravagances or improve her “flighty nature.” After an almost six-year effort, Bridget left the court with the love and respect of the royal couple.

When she was almost 40 years of age, Bridget joined her husband in a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostella, Spain. On the return journey, her husband was stricken with an illness, from which he died three years later. Before dying, he tenderly placed on his wife’s finger a gold ring which he said would serve to remind her of their mutual and undying love. Now widowed, Bridget divided her husband’s estate among her children and devoted herself entirely to prayer, penance and religious undertakings.The visions which the Saint had started to experience during her youth now became more frequent. During the year 1346, St. Bridget founded a monastery at Vadstena for an order of nuns known as the Brigittines, or the Order of St. Saviour. The monastery was richly endowed by King Magnus and was governed by the Saint’s daughter, St. Catherine of Sweden. To seek confirmation of the order, St. Bridget journeyed to Rome in 1349 in the company of her saintly daughter. With the exception of a few pilgrimages, notably one to the Holy Land, St. Bridget remained in Rome for the next 24 years, until her death in 1373.

During her stay in Rome, the Saint might have frequently recalled a vivid dream or vision she had experienced during her childhood in which she saw Our Lord hanging upon His Cross. The Crucified’s voice seemed to say, “Look upon Me, My daughter.” The child asked, “Who has treated You in this manner?” The vision replied, “They who despise Me, and are insensible to My love for them.”

This dream was probably remembered numerous times during her many visits to the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. In this basilica is still found the life-size crucifix, sculpted by Pierre Cavallini, to which she was particularly devoted and which is said to have spoken with her. At the base of this crucifix is a Latin inscription that translates, “Bridget not only receives the Words of God hanging suspended in the air, but takes the Word of God into her heart. Jubilee year of 1350.”

The year 1350 is not the year in which the inscription was placed beneath the crucifix but the year in which the Saint received the communication from the crucifix. Many claim that this communication consisted of the 15 St. Bridget prayers that are found in many prayer books. Pope Urban V approved the Saint’s order in August 1370 when he confirmed the Rule of her congregation.

Three years later, after a most edifying and holy life, St. Bridget died in Rome on July 23, 1373. Since Bridget had often visited the Poor Clares and had occasionally found it necessary to beg alms on the entrance steps, she was buried in their church, San Lorenzo in Panisperna, which is located on the summit of the Viminal Hill. A year later, her daughter, St. Catherine of Sweden, conveyed the remains to the monastery Bridget had founded at Vadstena, Sweden. Left at the convent of the Poor Clares was an arm of the Saint that the nuns wanted for a relic, together with the Saint’s coat and a prayer book. A mere 18 years after her death, St. Bridget was canonized on October 7, 1391, by Boniface IX. Alban Butler once wrote, “Nothing is more famous in the life of St. Bridget than the many revelations with which she was favored by God.” By order of the Council of Basle, the learned John Torquemada, afterward cardinal, examined these revelations and approved them as being profitable for the instruction of the faithful. This approbation was admitted by the council as being competent and sufficient.

Pope Benedict XIV referred to the Saint’s revelations when he wrote, “Even though many of these revelations have been approved, we cannot and we ought not to give them the assent of divine faith, but only that of human faith, according to the dictates of prudence whenever these dictates enable us to decide that they are probable and worthy of pious credence.” The revelations were printed and distributed as early as 1492. They were said to have been extremely popular during the Middle Ages, and they are still regarded as excellent material for spiritual consideration and meditation. In addition to St. Bridget founding a religious order and receiving the 15 prayers from Our Lord, the Saint’s name is also affixed to a rosary known as the Brigittine beads, which consist of 7 Our Fathers in honor of the Sorrows and Joys of the Blessed Virgin and 63 Hail Marys to commemorate the number of years Our Lady is thought to have lived on earth.

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